Exploring Balboa Park January 2015

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 | Columnists, Exploring Balboa Park, Featured | No Comments

By Johnny McDonald

Lighting the way

City officials have figured a brighter way to elevate, promote and celebrate the yearlong Centennial celebration: Supply some illumination and spotlight Balboa Park.

Johnny McDonald

Johnny McDonald

“After 100 years of serving as the crown jewel of our world-class city, we’re showing off Balboa Park in a whole new light,” stated Mayor Kevin Faulconer in a press release. “This is just one of the many ways we are elevating and improving Balboa Park to make sure it remains a treasure for future generations of San Diegans.”

Workers removed existing outdoor light fixtures and replaced them with red, green, and blue LED lights, which are programmable in 2,700 color hues and will allow for architectural color washes on building exteriors.

The project was a partnership among the city of San Diego, SDG&E and CleanTECH San Diego.

In addition, the city has installed energy-efficient lighting in its antique-style streetlights throughout the park and the string lights that connect them. The overall effort reportedly will save the city approximately $50,000 annually in energy and maintenance.

Appropriately, a New Year’s Eve party with marching units and a Spreckels Organ concert kicked off the celebration.

“It’s been wonderful since the city has taken over the [Centennial] project,” said Michael Ruiz, district manager for Balboa Park 2015. “We’re really working with various non profit and profit organizations.”

Ruiz said it was not the city’s intention to dictate what the museums should or shouldn’t do, but rather to encourage events with the main goal of celebrating the park. He pointed to some changes and innovations.

“The tower will be open to the public for the first time in 80 years, signs will be updated and there will be an expanded Wi-Fi system, making it the largest on the West Coast.”

Other highlights will include an expanded Japanese Friendship Garden and a model railway garden exhibit, where visitors can take control with mobile phones.

Although the disbanded Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. had planned to have professional acts and musicians, the city can call on many on the grounds. Several dance and ballet groups — including the San Diego Civic Dance Arts, San Diego Civic Dance Association and San Diego Civic Youth Ballet — as well as the San Diego Youth Symphony, are planning performances throughout the year.

Ruiz said there is no other place — except for the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. — where there is such a diverse collection of cultural and art institutions all in one place.

At least 13 of the 17 museums have selected venues that fit their formats and some will bring attention to 1915 Exposition achievements. The San Diego History Center will display components of the 1915 Expo, while Marston House will feature 20 landscape and building designers of that era.

“We have at least 70 exhibitions, more programs and activities and more being added each day,” said Peter Comiskey, CEO of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership.

Vintage race cars from the Expo’s Point Loma auto race will be on display at the Automotive Museum (Courtesy Automotive Museum)

Vintage race cars from the California-Panama Exposition’s Point Loma race will soon be on display at the Automotive Museum (Courtesy Automotive Museum).

Elsewhere in the Park — Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Expo’s big auto race in Point Loma, 26 vintage cars will retrace the course on Jan. 10 and will then be placed on display in front of the San Diego Automotive Museum … The Natural History Museum’s Discovery of King Tut exhibit will continue through April 26 … Throughout the year the Veterans Memorial and Museum will feature one of the key battles of the Korean War that took place June 10 – 18, 1953 … The popular traveling Dr. Seuss exhibition (on display now) will be featured throughout the year at the San Diego History Center. It will include signature elements emphasizing San Diego’s renowned Theodor Geisel as the world’s most celebrated children’s author and innovator … Through April 26, the Timken Museum of Art will show the masterwork of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino … See beasts familiar and strange, real and imagined at the Museum of Man and learn where they came from and how they behave in “Monsters!” … Explore the history of the Spanish Village with a unique walking tour … Beginning in February at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, escape for a world of science, technology, engineering, math and innovation, through Sept. 15 … On April 24 a spring signature Botanical Building event titled “Garden Party of the Century” has been scheduled by the San Diego Floral Association, Botanical Foundation and Friends of Balboa Park … and watch for “Flannery at the Fleet” — Former Padres player and Giants third base coach Tim Flannery will turn to music with his Lunatic Fringe group Jan. 16 to open RH Fleet Center’s “Rock in the Park” concert series. San Diego native Flannery left the Padres to join old boss Bruce Bochy in San Francisco and picked up a couple World Series rings. A prolific and talented songwriter, he’ll soon release his 11th album in 15 years. This is the second year the science center will feature different musical concerts each month through May, including rock, country, blues, folk and soul.

—After an award winning, 38-year sports-writing career with the San Diego Union and authoring three books, Johnny McDonald now considers writing a hobby. You can reach him at

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